Four Corners child exploitation fears lead to alcohol bid being rejected

Child exploitation fears raised by health chiefs have prevented a 24-hour shop under Hielanman’s Umbrella from selling alcohol.

A Police Scotland operation is aiming to protect kids, focusing on the Four Corners area.

Bosses at Central Park, a convenience store on Argyle Street, asked Glasgow’s Licensing Board for permission to stock alcohol, but the city’s health and social care partnership objected to the plan.

There is a Police Scotland led operation to protect children, focusing on the Four Corners, and the partnership was concerned an extra licensed premises would exacerbate the problem.

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Inspector Gareth Griffiths told the board he understood Operation Glacies is dealing with “the problems of child exploitation or child sexual exploitation”.

A police spokesman confirmed that sexual exploitation is part of the investigation, but not the sole purpose.

Michael McDougall, representing the shop, emphasised his client’s premises is not a target of the operation — and pointed out Police Scotland had not submitted an objection.

But the Licensing Board has refused the application to protect “children and young persons from harm”.

Elaina Smith, from Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “This area of Argyle Street, known as the Four Corners, is giving us a lot of concern.”

There are five other licensed premises within 200 metres and Ms Smith said: “We would suggest that adding further premises even closer to what is already in existence would continue to add to the ease of access to alcohol.”

She said vulnerable groups are attracted to the area and “alcohol is a key commodity within the life cycle of that vulnerability”.

“Some people are purchasing alcohol to make profit from it in order to get food or drugs,” Ms Smith added, and “children are getting access to alcohol”.

Mr McDougall said: “Neither the applicant or the premises are a target of this operation. Further, I think this is particularly important, the police have not objected to this.”

He added: “When I spoke to [the owner] Mr [Danny] Tang, he said he has a good rapport with the city homelessness team that operates in the area.

“For example, from time to time he donates stock, and he speaks to them on a regular basis to keep up to date with what’s happening in the area.”

An anti-social behaviour report revealed there were hundreds of cases, complaints and representations received by Police Scotland, within a 200 metre radius of the shop, between May 2020 and May this year.

It included 270 relating to prohibition of consumption of alcohol, 188 to common assaults, 97 to thefts by shoplifting, two rapes and two sexual assaults.

Mr McDougall said there were a high number of police reports in the area, but added it is near to Central Station, which “despite the circumstances of the past year, is Scotland’s busiest train station”.

“Footfall in the area will be astronomical, it’s one of the busiest streets in Glasgow.”

He said the shop wanted to sell alcohol to “diversify the product range and broaden the appeal”.

After hearing about the multi-agency operation and anti-social behaviour report, Cllr Bill Butler asked: “Why on Earth was there no police objection?”

Inspector Gareth Griffiths said: “There were no incidents at all that we could tie down to even the immediate vicinity of Mr Tang’s shop.

“I’ve been an operational inspector in the area, so I’m more aware than most people just how problematic that area can be.

“But figures don’t always tell a full story, that is literally the centre of the city, the footfall is massive.”

Inspector Griffiths added: “We believe, although there is no immediate proof of this, that the alcohol is being brought into the area, and not necessarily being bought in the existing premises nearby.”

Chief Inspector Ross Kelly, area commander for Glasgow city centre, said Operation Glacies is “aimed at protecting children from exploitation, with a specific focus on the area known locally as the Four Corners”.

“This has long been a location which is popular for young people from across the city and further afield to meet and congregate.

“Op Glacies is designed to support young people in the area and protect them from the risks they may face. We are supported in this work by British Transport Police, Glasgow City Council, social work and Barnardo’s.

“The initiative also seeks to work in partnership to minimise the impact of anti-social behaviour experienced by local businesses and visitors to this location.

“Officers engage with young people to divert them from becoming involved in anti-social behaviour and violence whilst maintaining public trust and confidence in policing.”